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Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial goes to jury

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Ted Stevens is accused of false statements on financial disclosures
  • Prosecutors: Stevens got gifts from oil industry executive
  • Executive oversaw work on Stevens' Alaska chalet
  • Defense says Stevens tried to pay for all work done
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From Paul Courson
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The jury in the federal corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska began deliberations Wednesday.

Sen. Ted Stevens leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday evening with his daughter Beth Stevens.

Sen. Ted Stevens leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday evening with his daughter Beth Stevens.

The Republican is charged with seven felony counts of making false statements by filing false financial forms related to more than $250,000 in renovations to his family's Alaska home. The alleged offenses occurred roughly between 2000 and 2007.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan instructed the jury for about 70 minutes on Wednesday, then dismissed the four alternate jurors.

He asked the remaining 12 if anyone had a compelling reason not to "retire to deliberate," then added, "I'm going to assume from your silence there are no such compelling reasons."

"The case is yours," Sullivan said at 11:58 a.m.

Stevens, 84, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, is seeking a seventh full term in that body in the November 4 election.

In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Stevens engaged in an elaborate scheme to accept thousands of dollars in gifts from Alaskan oil industry executive Bill Allen, who has admitted he tried to bribe state legislators, including the senator's son.

Stevens is not accused of bribery, but one prosecutor suggested he accepted gifts, concealed them from the public, and "took care of Bill" -- referring to Allen, the founder of oil services contractor VECO Corp.

The trial has revolved around a construction project at the Stevens family chalet in Girdwood, Alaska, about 40 miles from Anchorage at the foot of a ski resort. Allen, starting in 2000, helped organize labor, materials and subcontractors that doubled the size of the home.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said the government failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the jury should acquit Stevens on all counts.

He noted Allen had testified that Stevens would have paid whatever bills were sent, but that Allen decided not to tell Stevens the full cost "because I like Ted."

Allen also testified an Alaskan neighbor overseeing the home renovation said Stevens was "just trying to cover his ass" in requesting invoices for the project. Prosecutors have said none of the evidence shows Stevens ever paid Allen or VECO, and that neither is named on the Senate disclosure forms.

The neighbor, Bob Persons, testified during the trial that he never made that remark.

On Tuesday, the defense highlighted the contradiction against the testimony of the prosecution's star witness, making it a theme throughout a series of correspondence in which Stevens continued to ask for a full accounting.

"If you're covering your ass," Sullivan asked the jury, "why, a month later, are you asking for the bill again?"

Prosecutors played a recorded phone call between Persons and Allen.

"Ted gets hysterical when he has to spend his own money," Persons told Allen in the recording, which was played for jurors by Joe Bottini, the assistant U.S. attorney for Alaska.

Stevens, who spends most of his time in Washington, gave Persons power of attorney so he could get the required building permit for work on the chalet Stevens has owned since 1983.

Persons also confided to Allen that he didn't believe Stevens had enough money to do the remodeling.

Later Tuesday, the government made its final case.

"Wow!" shouted prosecutor Brenda Morris as she stood to address the jury. "Were we at the same trial? Because the evidence I saw was totally different."

She urged the jury to find the senator guilty on all counts, saying the evidence shows "Ted Stevens knowingly and repeatedly violated the law because he thought he was above the law."

The judge will remind the jury that Allen's testimony against Stevens is part of a deal with prosecutors that could reduce Allen's jail time when sentenced for attempted bribery. Morris, the lead prosecutor in the Stevens case, tried to bolster Allen's standing as the jury prepared to deliberate.

"The only thing he's guilty of with regard to this defendant is standing up and telling the truth" about materials and labor he arranged on the home improvement project, Morris said of Allen. "It was the defendant who is responsible for reporting it."

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If convicted on all counts, Stevens would face a maximum sentence of 35 years. Legal experts note the judge has the discretion to give Stevens as little as no jail time and probation.

Former federal prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers have told CNN that if convicted on some or all of the counts, the senator probably would face from a year to more than two years in jail.

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